ISLAMABAD: The opposition on Tuesday lambasted Prime Minister Imran Khan in the National Assembly for his “confession” during his visit to Iran that terrorists had used Pakistan’s soil in the past against the neighbouring country.

Terming it an addition to the “diplomatic blunders” committed by Mr Khan since taking over the government last year, the opposition demanded that the prime minister come to the house and explain his remarks.

The house witnessed ruckus for the second consecutive day when the opposition, while refusing to hear Communications Minister Murad Saeed, gathered in front of the speaker’s dais and held a noisy protest. The opposition members chanted slogans of “no baby no” and “go Niazi go” and tore up copies of the agenda.

• PML-N, PPP join hands to pounce on Imran’s ‘admission’ about use of Pakistani soil for attacks in neighbouring country • Minister defends PM, says remarks quoted out of context

In order to prevent the situation from getting worse when some of the treasury members also started raising slogans, Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri suspended the proceedings for Zuhar prayers.

It all started when Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz lawmaker Khurram Dastagir Khan drew the attention of the house to a reported statement in Tehran by the prime minister in which he had acknowledged that terrorists had in the past misused Pakistani territory to carry out attacks against Iran.

Stating that no prime minister had ever made such a statement on foreign soil, the PML-N leader regretted that the prime minister had made this statement at a time when the International Monetary Fund had already linked its bailout package for Pakistan to implementation of the measures demanded by the Financial Action Task Force.

“With such confessional statements, Pakistan is exposed to international litigation,” said Mr Dastagir, who had served as foreign minister during the previous PML-N government. He recalled that Prime Minister Khan had previously suggested that re-election of his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi could help resolve the Kashmir issue.

Recalling that Mr Khan had previously stated that “the militant groups had been created by Pakistan Army”, the PML-N legislator said that “the prime minister has committed diplomatic blunders” and “has hit national security”. He said the opposition was not calling Mr Khan “a traitor”, but only wanted him to come to the house to give an explanation.

Human Rights Minister Dr Shireen Mazari defended the prime minister, saying that only one part of his statement was being discussed. She insisted that the prime minister’s remarks were quoted out of context. She claimed that after acknowledging that Pakistan’s soil had been used for terrorist activities in Iran, the prime minister had stated that terrorists had recently come from Iran to carry out attacks in Balochistan. In an apparent reference to the ongoing criticism of another statement by the prime minister in which he had declared Japan and Germany as neighbours, she said it was “a slip of the tongue”.

Disagreeing with Dr Mazari, Pakistan Peoples Party lawmaker Hina Rabbani Khar said it was not a slip of the tongue as Mr Khan had spoken about the issue in detail. “This is not funny anymore. You cannot play with the destiny of the nation. We cannot allow you to make Pakistan a laughing stock,” she added.

Ms Khar, who also served as the foreign minister during the PPP government, regretted that other people who had said “much less severe things” than PM Khan had been “ousted from the country [and] cases were filed against them and their right to be elected was taken away”.

“You cannot make these stupid statements and expect us to stand behind you,” Ms Khar said. She claimed that people had been dubbed “traitors” for engaging with the Indian prime minister in the past, but now Mr Khan wanted to see Mr Modi getting re-elected.

The PPP lawmaker also hit out at the prime minister for his statement regarding an interim set-up in Afghanistan. “What business do you have there? Is Afghanistan not a sovereign country?” she asked and said they had left with no face to show to the world after such statements.

Responding to the opposition’s speeches, a hot-headed Murad Saeed recalled that in the past Mr Modi had visited the Raiwind residence of the Sharifs. After this, the minister turned his guns on the PPP, saying Bilawal [Bhutto-Zardari] had become chairman of the party “accidentally”. He said when the Pakistani armed forces and the prime minister were on the same page in the aftermath of Indian aggression, “Bilawal was pleading India’s case”.

“It is shameful that the PPP chairman was using poisonous language against his own country at a time when our jets were responding to Indian aggression,” Mr Saeed said.

“You appointed Hussain Haqqani as ambassador to the US. Even today, he is making statements against the country,” he said, addressing the PPP leadership. “When they are asked about fake bank accounts, they start talking against Pakistan. The whole family is involved in corruption — Bilawal, his father and his aunt. They all have looted public money and deprived the people of Sindh of their rights,” he alleged.

Later, speaking at a news conference after a meeting of the cabinet, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Media Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan termed Mr Khan’s visit to Iran a “successful one” and said it ended the confusion emerging in relations between Iran and Pakistan.

Published in Dawn, April 24th, 2019